I’ve heard it said India is both terrible and wonderful. Old beauty set alongside poverty and all manner of Chaos. Even with Goa being a virtual paradise compared to the rest of India, I can confirm this parable to be absolutely true.
It’s been challenging to say the least. Each day I go from “I hate this place” to “I love this place”. A lot of the experience is based upon mindset and expectation. It’s an exercise in letting go, in patience and in humility.
While sitting on cushions inside a canoe under a hut facing the Arabian Sea sipping Chai, I reflect upon some of the challenges it took to get here. I’ve been told it takes about 1 week to acclimate to the culture and health issues.
I’m viewing my time in India as an initiation.
A few of the challenges I’ve faced…
I wasn’t allowed to board my outbound flight from the U.S., without a return ticket out of India. Meaning they wanted to ensure I don’t overstay my 6 month Visa and stay permanently. I asked the person behind the counter if they could help me get a ticket, they said no (which later turned out to be untrue). Luckily, I had my Macbook and airport Wi-Fi and the help of my United Mileage Plus card customer support to make it happen. Even with arriving 3 hours early to the airport, I had maybe 30 minutes to spare after clearing security and getting to the terminal.
Money Exchange / Insufficient Funds ATM
After a flight from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Newark, NJ to Munich, Germany to Mumbai India it had been about 18-20 hours of in plane sitting, not to mention hours at the airport in between flights. The Munich airport was comfy and well provisioned.
Arriving at Mumbai, I thought the journey was almost over, considering it’s a 1-hour flight to Goa, but the trouble just began. I hadn’t slept for over 24 hours already with the time changes and jet lag.
I found an ATM to stock up on Rupees, however using the Charles Schwab checking account, showed “insufficient funds”. Apparently the large deposit I made a couple days earlier was on hold. I had no working phone SIM for my unlocked iPhone either. I felt dead in the water and nowhere to turn. I had to use a money exchange window with the $200 USD I had on me for emergencies. I then called collect from an airport phone to Charles Schwab to work through the situation, in which they told me it would be a few more days until my money was available. Note, it’s day 5 I haven’t been to an ATM yet, will need to find a taxi and get a ride to one. Most places so far don’t accept debit/credit cards either.
The Internet is bad. It took over 4 days to upload a 3 minute video, most estimates showed 8 hours estimated upload time. Finally I found a couple of better connections. Per a SIM card for an unlocked iPhone, I went days ago to apply with my passport. The guy took my info, rode off on a bicycle and said come back Wednesday to activate (which is today, we’ll see how that goes). This also forces me to really get stuff done with no playing around when a good connection presents itself, so I don’t spend all day trying to connect.
Getting from Mumbai to Goa
Now the excitement really begins, trying to find the domestic plane terminal to Goa. I made the mistake of asking random workers instead of finding a proper looking counter. My backpack (<– Amazon link) and drum were staring to get heavy, as I was low on energy.
I ended up taking a bus to another terminal swatting off mosquitos trying to keep my “don’t get ripped off” shield up. The machine gun armed guard wanted my printed itinerary, which I didn’t have from my original boarding. I wasn’t even allowed to enter the terminal.
I got turned away.
He tried to explain what I needed to do but I didn’t understand his broken English.
I felt lost, alone and dead in the water with low money, no phone and no direction.
Walking towards random steps, a taxi stalked me yelling “my friend, my friend”.
He actually helped me with finding a counter to get a printed literary, and gave me a lift back to the originally International terminal I came from. Riding through Mumbai was a poverty stricken sight to see of crumbling building, random fires and craziness. It was 2:00am at this point, and check in for my 5:30am flight didn’t happen until 3:00am. I used a free computer terminal to write a manual list of exchange rates in my moleskin notebook to make it easier to understand what was happening.
After boarding the plane and arriving in Goa, I looked for a pre-paid taxi. Of course I got approached a million times of people try to help. I agreed to one, but then found another, which caused the two taxi drivers to argue with me sitting there.
The first day continues.
The taxi ride to Goa was an eye opener.
Many of the roads were two lanes in which my driver went directly towards buses passing with little room to spare. Cows were wandering right in front of us scooters almost getting hit, people, dogs rolling around in trash on the sides of the road, pure chaos. The taxi had no A/C for the hour plus ride and I was exhausted.
The driver didn’t know where my drop off point was despite me giving him a written address, so he kept asking directions from people on the street. Finally, I got dropped off on a dirt road with my stuff close to the beach with wild dog packs, cows, trash and hoping I was walking the right way lugging my pack and drum in the heat over the sand wearing a jacket I didn’t have room at the moment to reorganize in my pack. After walking directly on the beach in thick sand wearing boots and my stuff, I finally found my destination about to pass out. My hut wasn’t ready for a couple more hours, so I sat and waited in the heat. The strength and patience to not die continued.
Picture huts erected with painted wood, cushions in canoes, floor seating and huts facing the Arabian Sea and this was the place. Free breakfast was being served outside as I arrived, of which we wash our own plates after.
This first day I was really exhausted, but after taking a mid day nap for a few hours, I explored the markets and various drumming/parties until 5am. I tend to push myself too far, and should have just slept for a long while.
Back in the U.S., I wanted to book a residence to stay before hand, in contrary to the advice of many for arriving and just walking around. As I had a desire to be close to the Arambol Beach drum circle nightly, without needing to travel far as I’m horrible with direction. Apparently it’s a bit pricey by India standards, which is 1500 INR (Rupees), which is about $25/USD a night. There is no hot water, no A/C and it’s constructed with wooden boards and a mosquito net. The bathroom is a wet bathroom; meaning the toilet and shower are in the same area. It drains water by slanting the floor directly out of the hut via a separation in the floor and wall. The back pipe of the toilet leaks a small amount of water when flushing onto this floor. I wash clothes in a bucket and dry them outside. I sweep the sand out with a traditional hand broom. I asked for an extra roll of TP and was told they were out, check tomorrow. I asked for a garbage bag and got handed some random plastic grocery bag. Luckily, there is a ceiling fan and power outlets. It’s growing on me though. This hut is at the Love Temple, and currently there is a festival happening for yoga, dance, positivity, etc.
Health and adjusting to life in India
In addition to India being a shock, I’m totally out of my element in several ways. Even living in Florida, I’m not a beach person. I don’t even own flip-flops or wear shorts. I dislike the heat and am more comfortable in forests and streams. I would enjoy the beach a lot more if my body tolerated it better, so usually I’d go at night. Yes, I knew this before coming here…..but didn’t expect this level of difficulty.
- Digestive issues. I can’t even sip on a beer or liquor. The mighty cannabis hasn’t yet come into my possession either, despite it being everywhere I go openly.
- Face breaking out.
- Sore throat and sinuses, which I fear is moving into my chest. (Granted, I’m around a lot of fires voluntarily).
- Severely blistered feet from attempting to wear 5 toe water shoes while walking over the sand and into pavement. At 95 degrees, this didn’t work. I don’t even walk barefoot in my own house in past years, as it was difficult. Therefore I wear Doc Marten boots with 2 pairs of socks for comfort and aesthetic. Given many places are located off the beach, you have to take your shoes off, which is problematic for me (laces and socks in sand). Now, it’s difficult to even walk at all, but my feet are getting better each day.
Being around all these healthy, fit people has me feeling like crap and alienated as I’m limping around. It’s putting a dampener of even walking down to the sea or going out.
Years of office work and side projects take its toll on fitness. Walking barefoot and shirtless makes me uncomfortable. So this is exactly what I’ve been doing, including eating lunch around tons of people while limping with my food out of shape and feeling self-consciousness. It’s humbling and freeing, including reason to improve this side of life.
Hopefully health will improve this week.
A few memorable moments:
- Lunch at the German Bakery sharing a table with Italian and Israeli guys. The conversations focused on the cultures of different countries. Gianrico Masetti was working on his imperfect novel about travel, I got a mention.
- The group of guy’s from Delhi on vacation from their Gov’t job, receiving at minimum 2 months off each year.
- The 10-person tribal/fusion band at Oshoanic with a beautiful dark haired girl in a white dress slowly whirling for a couple hours straight. Floor seating, a bonfire and interesting crowd of tribal folk, hippies and travelers.
- The squalor of grunting pigs on a pile of trash in front of a random shop.
- The cows wandering in streets and nearly getting hit.
- The Arab guy walking by in a Qatar airline shirt while “Walk like an Egyptian” by the Bangles was playing.
- Random garbage fires and the new smells in the air.
- Visiting ASH, a magical space by artists for artists. Only could I dream up such a cool space with a bonfire, organic structures like in a movie set, tons of beautiful and interesting people from all over the world dancing. Fusion tribal bands performing while a large live painting was being crafted. I hung out here with a Russian girl I had met earlier that day. Of which later, we found a bonfire rave on the beach. Three minutes into this video (I didn’t take this), great drumming and fire. The space looks way better in person than this video.
- The daily changing sand sculptures and mandalas. Gaia.
- The free spirited Brazilian guy I approached for a toke on the beach. I asked about his life, he creates art, studies traditional Indian raga music and was radiant. We spoke life philosophy in a way with intense eye contact, which would make most people uncomfortable. He is late 20’s and never got into the system. He is free, with little money yet does what he pleases.
- The gorgeous couple from Finland with tan perfect skin and long flowing blond Elven hair massaging each other while humming sitting 2 feet from me as we finish a vegetarian lunch on cushions.
- The other guy next to me from Sweden discussing his ideas for working some months of the year, other months teaching or running a wind powered sailboat to finance a life of travel.
- The sound of a couple making love to sitar fusion music in the hut next to me.
- The connections I see people having at the festival happening at the Love Temple. The only other place I see these types of beings are at drum circles sometimes, or occasionally transformational festivals, however most here are “high on life”. Granted this is a special gathering for especially happy people who live healthy lifestyles.
- Randomly connecting with Niel, a member of a band I love called Faun while I was drumming.
- The beautiful Russian girls braiding each other’s hair.
- The picture perfect Mediterranean looking 4 year old boy and girl chasing each other around and throwing sand, full of life and sparkle.
- The beautiful French woman openly breastfeeding her small child.
- The general sensual and soulfulness of people frolicking on the beach. Smiling, happy and carefree.
- To me, there is a continuous song, which plays in your head here, similar to what I hear at drum circles. You never know if it’s real or imagined. Psytrance, chanting, Hare Krishna marches, sitars, drums, all at the same time while you pass random bonfires, fire spinners and all types. Fully adorned ladies with baskets of fruit and handicrafts on their heads. It’s a beautiful thing and gets into your blood.
I made a few videos of my mindset on day 1 and 2. (It’s slowly improving).
My growing inspiration, as well as frustration about life in the United States.
Understandably I’m in a particularly conscious place (my hut) with happy people. In many ways, Goa is a paradise.
Apparently this is a slow season in Goa, even with this International crowd compared with last year due to the Russian economy. The tourism boards states attendance is down 60% this year, so I can only imagine how amazing it must be here during busier times.
I speak with many people about how they organize their life. Most are from non U.S. countries and multi-lingual. Not having to pay for medical care or college or large debts. One guy from Sweden said that if something big occurs for medical issues, the Government pays (at the expense of higher taxes of course). One can only imagine in the U.S. how getting a $50k or $100k bill could literally ruin the rest of your life.
One guy owns an apartment in Moscow and get’s 1,000 Euro a month to live, while creating a certain artist/concert venue here. The Swedish fellow mention above, also owns a small house he rents outs for income, has no other bills.
As mentioned on my about page, growing up I never knew there were other options for not only existence, but thriving and enjoying life, minus work, sleep, buy, repeat. There was no Internet; your sphere of influence was TV, your surroundings and friends, of which I had next to none due to various reasons. Or the random happenstance you catch drift of a traveler story in the library or bookstore, which usually was supported financially by volunteering, photography or writing.
I’m admittedly a little bitter having turned 40 and just now having my eyes opened over the last few years. It feels like one thing going wrong can ruin your life in the U.S. or that working less isn’t an option, unless you want to live with multiple roommates, have no car, no insurance, etc. So in order to survive you work all the time, come home exhausted and take your couple of weeks off a year until death, while self-medicating. That’s no life.
This is a generalization, I’ve seen some people manage to live healthy lives modestly and enjoy their passions, however they are few.
Having made the decision to work ungodly hours as a chef years ago, then to better life by learning new skills when working full time also, I’ve never really had a life or made time for fitness. I don’t like regime and can’t imagine getting up 5:00am daily to run through a list of fitness tasks, hobbies, personal growth in addition to figuring out debts, savings and commuting to bland office jobs while spending free time learning new skills to escape the system. It’s just too much. Maybe I don’t manage my time well, as others seem to do all of these things, yet are constantly stressed and can never step off.
I’d prefer to be like a turtle making it’s way through the forest at it’s own pace, unaffected by it’s surroundings.
Other people choose to walk away and leave debts and responsibilities unattended. Unless you totally drop out, I feel this isn’t a solution either as options are limited for mobility or ever reintegrating if needed. I’ve never had a savings account self made, until about 35 years old, which further hurt this cycle of debts/work. For all of my 20’s, my pay was usually $1,600 USD/month. Only in my 30’s did this start to slowly climb to more than double over the least few years only.
I firmly believe there only two options.
- At a young age, never enter the system of daily grinds and debts. It takes massive effort to break the chains. This is counterintuitive to what we’re taught in schools and families. Go to college, get a job, buy a house, have kids, wait for your yearly 2-week vacation then retire at 65.
- Somehow (like I’ve done), sacrifice having pets, family, children, partners, friends, possessions to fight your way out of the matrix with a sledgehammer and hope the other side of the wall crumbles, letting sunlight shine through. Learn new skills, save tons of money and live on less for a life of experience.
The third option which I don’t see as feasible for me, is to just accept your place in life, hold a job until you inevitable get let go to find another (all things change), and enjoy your few hours of free time and be happy your not living in squalor. Climb the ladder.
With each passing year, I am awed with the preciousness of life and its limited supply. I’m learning to let go. For me, it’s fear of being poor; I’ve been close to homeless many times working multiple low-end jobs at once, yet here I am sitting in India by the sea in a magical environment of contrasts. A few years ago before my last job, my bank account read $43 dollars. Things can change quickly.
I don’t hear excuses here. I see action. I see people who just made their lives happen. I don’t hear talks about jobs, about their stresses, their debts, about media garbage. I see radiant beings striving to become more fully human, despite the consequences.